Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

As the World Awaits War, Pakistan Remains in a State of Confusion

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

As the World Awaits War, Pakistan Remains in a State of Confusion

Article excerpt


These days Pakistan, an old U.S. ally and now a coalition partner in the war against international terrorism, finds itself in a strange predicament. Islamabad's primary duty, of course, is to protect the safety and the security of its citizens. In the present context of world affairs, however, this primary function is not terribly well defined-not only in Pakistan, but in many of the other countries economically dependent on today's sole superpower. American economic strength, its technological and military power, is being felt across the globe, and it is very palpable in Pakistan.

Secondly, given its predominantly Muslim population, Pakistan's loyalties also are to Islam, and by extension to what is described as the Muslim bloc of nations. Here again, Islamabad finds itself caught up between very difficult circumstances, particularly following the Sept. 11 disaster. Its neighbor Afghanistan, never one to provide comfort, today subjects the government of President Pervez Musharraf to serious hardship. Nor does India-a country five times the size of Pakistan, with ambitions of being recognized as a major world power-ever cease adding to its neighbor's woes.

Against the background of a looming U.S.-- led war on Iraq-with Secretary of State Colin Powell making his case before the UN. Security Council, and France, Russia and Germany apparently unconvinced by the "evidence"- Security Council member Pakistan performed yet another balancing act, joining many others in asking that any action be taken through the Security Council.

In early February, President Musharraf travelled to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to mend fences between the two countries. Although Pakistan continues to seek a mediator to resolve the Kashmir dispute, Putin made it clear that Moscow will do nothing to jeopardize its longstanding ties with India.

Domestic Concems

Many politically unsophisticated Pakistanis do not hesitate to speak their mind. Tired of their country's historic mismanagement, today they are concerned only with bread-- and-butter issues.

Not only are Pakistanis' loyalties seriously split, but the sovereignty of the state is questioned at every turn. The northern tribal area bordering Afghanistan is only "administered," not fully controlled, by Islamabad, with the Baluchistan tribal chiefs in open defiance of state authority. A recent feud between the Bughti and the Mazari tribes, in fact, culminated in the blowing up of the gas pipeline that supplies Punjab province, and the government was reduced to negotiating with the tribes. (The gas pipeline being planned to run from the oil-rich fields of Central Asia via Afghanistan to India and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, it is worth noting, traverses the tribal areas of Baluchistan.)

While this near-anarchy is a legacy of the British Empire, which ruled the subcontinent for over 150 years and left much unfinished business, the principal failing has been that of Pakistan's successive governments. Because they have left the country's tribal state of affairs intact over a half-century of independence, today the tribal chiefs wield more authority in northern Pakistan than does the state, and national assets are blown up on a whim.

As is often sarcastically pointed out, Islamabad, enclosed by the Margala Hills, lies 10 miles from Pakistan. The more significant truth, however, is that there are two Pakistans which exist side by side: one, the better tended military neighborhoods (cantonments) and communities to be found in every town and city, and the other, larger areas of dilapidated neighborhoods and deteriorating infrastructure. …

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